FUKUOKA – Japan coach Jamie Joseph was left with plenty to think about Saturday as the Brave Blossoms fell 47-27 to Robbie Deans’ World XV at Level 5 Stadium.
A week before they take on Australia — runner-up at the last Rugby World Cup and winner over world No. 1 New Zealand last weekend — the Brave Blossoms’ inability to keep hold of the ball cost them dear.
The invitation side was hungrier at the breakdown, played the slippery conditions better and showed up Japan’s lack of specialist locks at the line-out.
Japan’s ill-discipline was also shown up on a day Lomano Lava Lemeki was one of the few Brave Blossoms to impress with ball in hand.
“We were unstructured in defense and there were a number of times that we allowed (their players) to get through the gaps. We need to have more structure,” said Japan captain Michael Leitch.
Yoshikazu Fujita, meanwhile, used the occasion to remind Joseph that despite his occasional defensive frailties he is a world-class finisher as he touched down twice for a side brought together from around the world.
“We wanted to show how much fun we had had this week and put in a performance that showed that and I think we did that,” said former All Black and World XV captain Andy Ellis.
The game opened with the World XV’s Japanese element taking center stage with Fujita finishing off some good handling from forwards and backs to score in the corner and Ayumu Goromaru adding the extras.
Any pretense this was simply an exhibition game was soon dismissed when Leitch opted for a shot at goal when the invitation side was penalized at the breakdown, Yu Tamura’s right boot ensuring it was 7-3 with 15 minutes on the clock.
The World XV responded quickly though when Vince Aso scored a great individual effort following a turnover, the Kiwi’s speed to his own well-placed kick ensuring the Japan cover had no chance of catching him.
Goromaru once again added the extras from out wide but could then only watch as Tamura got Japan back into the game.
The Japan flyhalf added a second penalty in the 28th minute and then produced a good show-and-go four minutes later to set up Ryuji Noguchi for a try, which he converted to make it 14-13 at the break.
“We were putting pressure on them but it seemed they got a lucky bounce and scored two tries,” Joseph said in a televised halftime interview.
The second half opened with Noguchi sent to the sin bin for a deliberate knock-on and the World XV took full advantage with Sam Wykes, Adriaan Strauss and Fujita all crossing the whitewash to make it 33-13.
And even when it was back to 15 on the field, Japan still had no answer as Corey Flynn rumbled over with Goromaru again on target with the conversion.
“I think I was basically able to respond to the expectations of me,” said Goromaru, who kicked five-from-six.
“If I had not played (for teams) overseas I would not have been picked for the World XV and this has been a great experience.”
The last 20 minutes saw Japan try to regain some pride. But with the World XV defense proving too good and the Brave Blossoms attack far too inadequate, their only reward came from late tries by Sione Teaupa and Uwe Helu, either side of one by Richard Buckman.
“We knew we had to keep the ball a bit and not give them a chance to run,” Ellis said of his side’s second-half effort.
Leitch, meanwhile, was trying not to be too negative ahead of games with the Wallabies, Tonga and France.
“There were positive and negative outcomes to the new things we tried in defense and in a good way that has given us things we need to work on ahead of the test against Australia.”